The outbreak of COVID-19, has taken a large toll on our local area. To investigate this issue, I interviewed Wimbledon and Putney Common’s Head Keeper, Richard Thompson. In order to, to find out more about himself and the work, he and his team are doing to keep us safe during these unprecedented times. 

How did you reach your current position as Head Keeper on Wimbledon Common?

I was in the Metropolitan Police as a mounted Sergeant, which is a very unique position. There are not many places you can go with the qualifications of a mounted Sergeant. As it happened, I saw the advertising to become a mounted keeper on Wimbledon and Putney commons, as I was coming towards the end of my service in the police, I applied and got the job. Two years into my service, an opportunity came up, to be promoted to be head keeper, so I applied and went through the application process and was successful. 

What does your job as Head Keeper entail?

Wimbledon and Putney Commons is a fairly unique area of 1140 acres which is held in trust on behalf of the Public. There are group of 8 trustees that manage and control the commons. My Job is to uphold the 54 bylaws and regulations that are in place, the keepers do that by patrolling on horseback, this is the best way to provide a high visibility presence on the common.

What issues do you have to solve on day-to-day basis?

We will intervene when any her person has broken one of the 54 by laws. The bylaws range from people wearing the wrong coloured tops to play golf, to having more than four dogs on the common at one time, cycling on the wrong, and a host of other indiscretions that occur.

How has the recent outbreak of COVID-19 affected your job at the common?

It has had a massive effect; it has completely turned on its head the way we do our job and what we are expected to do. First and foremost, we decided that it would be impossible to keep the horses on the common, in case the staff fell sick, so the four horses have been turned out to grass, which means we patrol either on foot or in vehicles to maintain social distancing between ourselves and the public. We now work individually, as appose to working as a team. At first, we closed all the car parks, to ensure people to socially distance and limit the amount of people on the common. However, in order to help the NHS, we opened the car park for their use only at Parkside Hospital. Now there is no vehicle access to common, after the authorities allowed the NHS to park on the roads. Now, the foot fall the people on the common has increased up to 8x, which is massive pressure on us to help uphold our bylaws, social distancing has become a challenge due to the sheer volume of people using the commons. To help with that, we have had to introduce new rules, such as keep dogs on their leads, to prevent dogs creating a situation where people would have to close the 2-metre social distancing rule. We have had the police horses up patrolling the commons and police motorbikes patrolling the fairways, which is novel. We are trying to striking a balance between people exercising freely and stopping people threating others health. 

Thank you very much to Richard Thompson for taking his time to speak me and thank you to the keepers and staff at the commons for keeping us, the public safe during this time.